Tevye the Dairyman by Sholem Aleichem

TitleTevye the Dairyman
Author: Sholem “Aleichem” (Rabinovich)
Genre: fiction (“Yiddish classic”)
ISBN: 0805240268
Length: 131 pages
Published: various publication years (1894/1897, 1899, 1899, 1904, 1905, 1907, 1909, and 1914/1916 for the eight stories)
Source: public library
Rating: 4/5
Resolutions: Victorian Lit Challenge (this book actually completes that resolution!!)

Reason for Reading: I love Fiddler on the Roof, so I wanted to see part of the story behind the musical. From what I understand, this and Tevye’s Daughters are different, but both influenced the musical.


As Halkin elucidates in his introduction, Tevye’s self-mocking but deeply affecting monologues (which inspired the play and film Fiddler on the Roof satisfy on several levels: as a psychological analysis of a father’s love for his daughters, despite the disappointments they bring him; as a paradigm of the tribulations and resilience of Russian Jewry and the disintegration of shtetl life at the twilight of the Czarist Empire; and as a Job-like theological debate with God…

My Thoughts: While some of these stories are a little boring for my taste, I really enjoyed the subject. It’s just the way that Tevye narrates that I find a little mundane.

In comparison to Fiddler on the Roof, I like the film better. But that’s simply because 1) I love musicals, 2) it condenses the stories in a great way that keeps pretty true to the original writings, and 3) I love musicals 🙂 However, in the film there appears to be only 5 daughters, even if only 3 of them get attention–in the book there are technically 7, but only 5 are paid any attention. But both Shprintze and Beilke, the other sisters with their own stories by Aleichem, have tragic endings.

As far as the communism theme in the film goes, it is practically nonexistent in the writings. In FotR, the picture presented of Anatevka and the surrounding areas (Kiev and Imperial Russia in general) is a pretty negative one. There is a lot devoted to the portrayal of the Jews being treated badly and the struggle between the royal family and rising communists. But that doesn’t really make an appearance in the writings–not until the last story, which is like the films ending, concerning the Jews. So I got to thinking about this discrepancy. And I think I figured it out. FotR was released in 1971, during the middle of the Cold War. I wonder why an American-made movie from that time could possibly portray a bad picture of Russia, even if it was in Russia’s past 🙂 And it could even go further, to say that the ending of the stories, when the Jews were treated worst, was when the communists had gained control. However, that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

But I did learn something from this book. When I was trying to find out whereabouts Anatevka was supposed to be in reality (I know it’s a fictional village). I found out about The Pale/Pale of Settlement, which I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of. Shows how much my degree that allows me to teach world history actually required me to learn about the history of the world 😦


2 thoughts on “Tevye the Dairyman by Sholem Aleichem

  1. emmac6 says:

    Interesting, I read it in January, but didn’t think of adding it to my Victorian Challenge list! If you want to see my review go to: http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/tevye-the-dairyman-and-motl-the-cantors-son/
    Emma @ Words And Peace

  2. Chelsea says:

    Yet another example of not knowing that a movie has a book counterpart! I don’t know if I could read this one, however, owing to the ABSOLUTE love I have for Fiddler on the Roof – it was my grandmother’s favorite movie, and just gets to be untouchable from there!

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